Fast redundant storage - the Drobo 4 Bay 3rd Generation


As our photo and video libraries grow we need the ability to grow our storage on the fly while getting improved redundancy.  Sure you can buy standalone drive kits, or build your own, but the folks at Drobo have a better, and now faster and cheaper idea.I have not always loved Drobo.  I had more problems than necessary with quality on my 2nd generation Drobo, and reliable connectivity for the 5 to my old Mac Pro was never really there.  Part of the issue was the lack of a reliable eSATA and USB3 card and driver for the Mac Pro, and part was just crappy support and not so hot firmware for the 5 out of the gate.  By the end of the Mac Pro's life, things were stable on USB3 so when I got the new Mac Pro, the transition was smooth and it works fine today. But I, like all of us, wanted more storage, in this case as a local backup for files already stored on the Drobo 5D (which redeemed Drobo in my mind because it has been flawless).  I am perhaps excessively paranoid about drive failure but since I am, I needed a cheaper alternative to another 5D.  Drobo recently released the 3rd generation 4 bay Drobo.  It is a simple device having only a USB3 connection and a power connection.  It comes empty, so your best bet is to populate it with OEM hard drives.  Based on years of managing failures and for fast local performance I standardized on Western Digital Caviar Black drives in locally connected systems and Western Digital Caviar Red drives in my Network Attached Storage.

The 3rd Gen is easy to setup.  Install at least two and a maximum of four drives.  Load the Drobo Dashboard on your computer, Windows or OS X.  Plug in the drive and power it on.  Launch the Drobo Dashboard application.  It sees the Drobo, let's you name it, and formats the array using their proprietary but proven BeyondRAID technology.

You are up and running.  Now let's suppose you went with 2TB drives and a year from now you are running short on space.  Pull one out and replace it with a larger drive say a 4TB drive.  Do this while the system is running.  Drobo sees the drive go away and continues to work just fine albeit slower because Drobo can survive a full disk crash.  Drobo then sees the new drive and begins to work to expand your available storage all in the background.  In fairness, when I do a disk upgrade I do the upgrade with pairs of drives, but installed one at a time to let Drobo do the storage management properly.

I added the 3rd generation this week and after upgrading to the latest Drobo Dashboard, it saw my drive pack, set it up for the Mac and the Drobo was running away providing storage in less than five minutes.  Unlike standalone disk systems, if a drive ever fails, the Drobo will alert me but it will keep running.  Drobo says the 3rd generation is much faster internally than the 2nd generation.  USB3 is a lot faster than Firewire 800 which is how I ended up connecting my 2nd gen unit so I cannot say how much faster it is, but I will say I do not see any spin up latency on the new unit that I used to see on the 2nd gen unit.

I bought my Drobo3 as I call it at Canada Computers.  The unit was $349.   Western Digital 2TB Caviar Black drives are on sale at $139 each.  If you populate the unit with four drives you end up with about 6TB of storage with full data protection.  Even if you only load two drives, you still get 2TB of fully protected storage.

Sometimes those prebuilt drives you buy at Costco and elsewhere use slower, less reliable drives.  They last in my experience two to two and a half years.  I have never lost a Caviar Black or Caviar Red drive.  The Caviar Green drives are cheaper but I have had 50% failure in two years on those and do not recommend them in a device like a Drobo.  They are also much slower performers lousy for photo and video work.

Is a Drobo right for you?  If you want inexpensive, easy to manage, in box scalable redundant storage, the answer is very likely yes.